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Full text of "Ornamental Iron-Work"

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— Hi^ Edited BY#g^— 

Prof. W.Baumer, I.Schnorr a MD Others. 



VOL. II. 



N°- 3. 



Ornamental Iron-work. 



By Mr. Jacob Falke. 



Of all the branches of modern Art-Industry, none 
perhaps Has, in an artistic point of view, been so neg- 
lected, as ornamental Iron-work. This neglect is indeed 
.only of recent date; for the wrought grilles, gates and 
railings of our gardens and palaces, as well as other 
buildings, bear witness that the taste, and tendencies of 
past periods of art up to the present Gentury attached 
great value to elaborately wrought Iron-work. Neverthe- 
less it seems to have been lately supplanted to a large 
extent by cast iron. Still the latter will never replace 
wrought iron, either in respect of its characteristic .quali- 
ties, or the particular style of ornamentation of which it 
is susceptible; for notwithstanding the numerous attempts, 
more or less successful, which have recently been made 
to appropriate cast-iron for works of art, it has proved 
altogether rebellious . to a truly artistic treatment. To 
day, when the tendencies of reform in Art-Industry begin 
to awake a renewed interest for Iron-work, it will seem 
appropriate to take a short retrospective view of its 
history in art, to consider its various styles of ornamen- 
tation, and to examine how far we may now profit by 
it, and turn it to good account. 

The history of ornamental Iron-work is of recent 
date for us in Europe. The period of its highest deve- 
lopment commences with the craft of the amourer, which, 
in originating and perfecting plate-armour in the course 
of the fifteenth century, was truly* elaborated into an 
art. It is true that the excavations of tombs of the 
Merovingian period show iron ornaments for personal 
use, elegantly mounted and enriched with silver; but 
this style of workmanship, which, as it would seem, soon 
disappeared in Europe, was most likely an ancient in- 
heritance, the home and origin of which might be traced 
to Asia where it is still extensively practised, as it pro- 
bably has been from the most remote times. 

With the exception of sword-blades, simple casques, 
etc., the early mediaeval period has handed down but 
few specimens of Iron -work, and only a very small 
number of them can be : ranked as works of art. Where 
iron might have been suitably employed we find it fre- 

The Workshop. 1869. 



quently replaced by brass and bronze, e. g., knockers, 
of various form and design, bronze lions' heads, etc., 
still extant. There are however still some specimens 
of ornamental Iron -work of high artistic value ill the 
Eomanesque style and Early Gothic, the most remark- 
able of which are perhaps the door -hinges of Notre- 
Dame at Paris, of the second half of the twelfth ^ century. 
These consist of wrought-iron bands, rather massive 
and thick in proportion, and worked with admirable 
precision and elegance, the main stem, from the head 
of the hinge, throwing off interlaced branches which grow 
into -most elaborate and graceful scroll work, leaves, 
and flowers, interspersed with all sorts of birds in differ- 
ent positions. They extend over and cover almost the 
whole dqor, forming one great ornament of exquisite 
arrangement and design, and at the same time of great 
strength 'and solidity, and representing a most appropriate 
and charming enrichment. To heighten the effect, all the 
iron was formerly gilt, the ground being red (see fig. 1). 

The technical and artistic principles to which ex- 
pression is given by the Iron-work of the door of Notre- 
Dame Cathedral was faithfully perpetuated and further 
developed by Gothic art, through many examples of great 
richness and beauty of form. They all show a true 
understanding of the characteristic property of wrought 
iron, namely that of stretching and extending under the 
hammer. . In proportion as the iron bars are flattened 
and beaten under its strokes, they are separated length- 
ways into two or more bands and branches, starting 
from the middle, and extending more and more over the 
surface. The ends receiving the same treatment, the 
whole forms an ornament of great richness and elegance, 
the extremities sometimes enriched with curls and leaves, 
ocasionally with animals' heads , etc. , as pointed out in 
the specimen above referred to. 

It would be difficult to find an example in the 
thirteenth and fourteenth centuries which could bear 
comparison with the doors of Notre -Dame in regard 
to beauty of invention, brilliancy of effect, and precision 
of workmanship. During the fifteenth century the per- 

9 



a4 



fection attained in the art of the armourer could not but 
influence that of the smith and metal worker, in conse- 
quence of which ornamental Iron-work and its manufacture 
received a more extensive and manifold development, and 
a more delicate treatment and execution. The bands and 
branches growing into a most elaborate and graceful scroll- 
work of regular design and 
form, stamped with ribs and 
veins, show a more exact 
rendering of vegetable types. 
To enhance the effect by light 
and shade they were partly 
embossed and hammered 
from the under surface, ad- 
ding to the flat treatment 
the life and play of relief 
work. The gilding, used in 
Norman or Romanesque sty- 
le was, for more delicate 
work, replaced by tinning, 
rendering the ornament bril- 
liant like silver, relieved by 
red or blue ground of parch- 
ment", leather or simply paint. 
The same decoration, which 
owed its origin to the manu- 
facture of door-hinges, was 
adopted for all sorts of smith- 
work, framing the cases of 
locks, mounting their cor- 
ners, or covering them with 
pierced ornament. Particu- 
larly finials, and escutcheons 
on which the.knocker or ring- 
handle was fixed show a pro- 
fusion of ornament of asto- 
nishing beauty and great de- 
licacy of execution (see fig. 2). 
This style of ornamen- 
tation, although the most 
frequent, does not apply to 
all the works of art in Iron- 
work of Gothic date. Just 
as Gothic art, in its degene- 
rating course during the 
fifteenth century, forced its 
purely architectonic orna- 
ment, especially tracery, upon 
other branches of art, parti- 
cularly to that of the gold- 
smith, so also Iron-work, of- 
ten intimately combined with 

Architecture, did not escape. Escutcheons of knockers 
were transformed into Gothic rose-windows; locks, and 
mountings of doors and other objects were enriched with 
a variety of pinnacles, crockets, finials and window-tracery, 
often Flamboyant in style and design, nay sometimes 
like miniature churches surmounted by tabernacle -work, 
buttresses, gable-ends, etc. This, certainly, is by no means 
a commendable treatment even for modern Gothic buil- 



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Fig. 1. 

Door-hinges from Notre-Dame, Paris. 

Twelfth century work. 




Fig. 2. 

Knocker with ornamental Escutcheon. 

Fifteenth century work. 



dings. Also the rich mouldings, panelling, and featherings 
which were so extensively seen in ornamental wood car- 
vings of the period were all imitated in Iron-work, formed 
into locks, door-handles, etc. 

With the new style in Architecture the sixteenth 
century brought also a new style of ornamentation for 

smith-work. For more im- 
portant, objects hammered, 
or repousse work was still 
preferred, and for a long 
time even in great favour. 
Especially gates, rails, grilles 
for the upper parts of arched 
doors, open screens, etc., 
were wrought, with great 
skill and solidity, the orna- 
mental motives being formed 
of small bars, turned into 
spiral-like scrolls, throwing 
off tendrils, continually inter- 
lacing and crossing each 
other, and forming new spi- 
rals and scrolls, rivetted 
together, with bold flowers 
and leaves, interspersed so- 
metimes with birds or other 
animal types, and even small 
human figures. Naturally 
enough the execution of these 
objects in a material not very 
appropriate to such delicate 
work is rather coarse, and 
the whole must be considered 
as mere specimens of decora- 
tion. Other objects which 
allowed free scope to the 
inventive genius and skill of 
the art-worker were the ar- 
matures of wells, and the 
iron-work of windows, which, 
on the ground-floor espe- 
cially, were often comple- 
tely secured with elaborate 
screen-work. The heads of 
the stanchions were, from 
the beginning of the seven- 
teenth century , frequently 
enriched with flowers and 
finials of bold design, affor- 
.ding great variety of form, 
which soon became very favo- 
rite ornaments, used for all 
for bell-pulls in old houses 
which are seen in many places of Upper-Austria. The 
style of ornamentation changing with the ever-varying 
taste of the period, the heads of stanchions and other 
decorative - features of railings, screens, etc., received 
during the eighteenth century all the overcharged and 
capricious scrollwork, which marks the Rococo period. 
Nevertheless we cannot withhold our admiration of the 



sorts of purposes, as, e. g. 



35. 



creations of that advanced date, which, taken by them- 
selves and independently of style, present most remarkable 
and astonishing works. They are, if not in form yet in 
invention and workmanship, 
the natural expression of true | 
taste and breadth of design, j 

Many household articles j 
in iron, used in those centu- ] 
ries, particularly utensils for j 
lighting and heating, origi- | 
nated under the hammer. In j 
Italian palaces from the fif- 
teenth century we still find 
splendid standards and torch- 
holders, which, without par- 
taking too much of the archi- 
tectural type of the time, 
combine pureness of style 
with exquisite beauty of form. 
From the sixteenth century 
many admirably worked fire- 
dogs and screens, mostly of 
North-Italian and French ma- 
nufacture are still extant, a 
beautiful specimen of the for- 
mer being in possession of the 
Austrian Museum. Ponderous 
and massive as these objects 
are, they are, although mere 
black - smith's work, much 
more in accordance with the 
demands of a sound and 
genuine taste, than the com- 
paratively meagre substitutes 
of polished or gilt brass which 
decorate our modern fire-side. 
The wrought - iron candle- 
sticks, formerly used for do- 
mestic purposes were of finer 
and more elegant execu- 
tion, showing frequently most 
graceful and original, but 
nevertheless quite appropriate 
forms, their invention and 
design being entirely in con- 
formity with the manufacture 
and the purpose of the work. 

All the above mentioned 
articles are however devoid 
of a more delicate and pe- 
culiar ornamentation either in 
style or manufacture, the 
mode of decoration being re- 
stricted to the use of the 
hammer and file. Still the 
finer work of the locksmith 
adopted much of the deco- 
ration which had come into vogue through the art of the 
armourer, from the early part of the sixteenth century. 




Fig. 3. 

Armature of a well, Neunkirchen, Lower-Austria, 

Sixteenth century work. 



Partly indeed these works, especially those connected 
with locks and keys, remained true to their ancient cha- 
racter, the structural form and ornament being still 

worked by the hammer, while 
the Gothic types and fea- 
tures, replaced by those of 
the Eenaissance, had to give 
way to masks, heads, little 
nude figures, medallions, etc., 
although rather deficient in 
the manner of execution. 
Thus the key -handles, in- 
stead of Gothic rose-window 
tracery, received pierced or- 
nament of the characteristic 
design and sweep of the Re- 
naissance. 

One principal feature 
was however entirely altered. 
While the fifteenth century, 
as above pointed out, had in 
preference, used relief treat- 
ment for iron-work, the six- 
teenth century, the period 
of mechanical inventions and 
improvements, set a high 
value on the interior con- 
struction of locks, which 
were frequently very elabo- 
rate and complicated pieces 
of mechanism which, with 
their manifold and most diffi- 
cult combinations, had to be 
worked out with the greatest 
precision, exactness, and soli- 
dity. Numerous specimens 
of most wonderful skill of 
this kind have been handed 
down to us. It may be well 
to mention here that the 
locks of the Germanic Mu- 
seum in Nuremberg, taken 
from the house of Augustin 
Hirschvogel in Hirschelgasse, 
being the work of that dex- 
terous and skilful artist, still 
do their office as well as at 
first, in spite of their com- 
plicated mechanism, and the 
wear and tear of three hund- 
red years. So much labour 
being bestowed on the in- 
terior, and so much attention 
paid to the mechanism, an- 
other and lighter sort of de- 
coration for the exterior would 
appear to be requisite, in con- 
sequence of which the etching of ornament, suggested 
by the armourer's art was put into requisition for the 



.36 



decoration of the surface, instead of the relief work for- 
merly used. The ornament was left in blank and highly 
polished, the ground being etched black, and in order 
to give it more life and lustre, it was dotted with bright 
points such as are found in the ancient armours. This 
mode of decoration was much and richly applied to small 
iron strong-boxes and caskets, serving for the adornment 
of parlours and libraries, and offering the requisite sur- 
face for such enrichment. Of great lightness and ele- 
gance, it was nevertheless a perfectly appropriate style 
of work, worthy of a revival, and superior to the lacker 
or varnish painting of our modern iron strong-boxes. 



In the old specimens of the sixteenth century there is only 
this fault, that the ornamental patterns, in comparison 
with the heavy article they have to adorn appear, much 
too delicate; considered by themselves, they are fre- 
quently of high perfection, exhibiting the most beautiful 
designs, especially those of the German Masters, who 
greatly excelled in this art. Two remarkable examples 
of colossal dimension, but most wonderful ornamentation, 
originally belonging to a monastery and now in the pos- 
session of the Austrian Museum, are true chefs-d'oeuvre 
of the craft. 

The conclusion in our next. 



Specimens of Ornamentation. 







No. 1. 



Nos. 1 and 2. Komane.sque Style. — Details of Imposts. 

No. 1 from Muenzenberg, Hesse; i2* h century, */ 4 of full size. 

No. 2 from Church of the order of St. John, Nieder-Weisel, Hesse; end of 12 tb century, */* Ml size. 

Nos. 3 and 4. Early Gothic. Foliated Jamb-moulding, between Shafts of Porch of Larchand Abbey, 13 th century. 



Nos. 5—9. Modern Gothic; Iron Stove. — Mr. E. Bcesser, Archt. 

No. 5 Front Elevation; No. 6 Detail of pierced Panels; No. 7 Pedestal; Nos. 8 and 9 various Finials for upper part of Stove. • Scale 

of No. 6, x l*, No. 7, V», Nos. 8 and 9, */« Ml size.